Having come all the way to Jodhpur we thought we might as well take in Jaisalmer. Around a couple of hundred kilometers away Jaisalmer is, unlike Jodhpur, a genuine desert town, situated plumb in the middle of the Great Indian Desert of Thar. On the way we came across the site of what was termed as the first Indian Nuclear (“peaceful”) Implosion, vis. Pokhran. The nuclear tests were conducted here in 1974 that heralded India’s entry into the select group of nuclear powers. The tests were later described as Pokhran I as eventually before declaring a moratorium on nuclear tests five more tests were conducted in 1998 and were designated as Pokhran II.
Pokhran was the only interesting site on the way. Curiously, Prosopis Juliflora kept our company all through in widely scattered clusters. This only indicates the hardiness of the plant and its capacity to survive in very arid conditions. One wonders whether it would be able to extend its octopus-like tentacles into the Thar Desert.
Jaisalmer brought back the memories of the film made by Bharat Ratna and Academy of Motion Pictures & Arts award-winner Satayjit Ray’s film “Sonar Kella”, the Golden Fort. It was made more than fifty years ago and, coming from the master of cinematography, it was a great success. Perhaps for the first time a Bengali film director chose a locale so far away from Bengal where everything – from food to the spoken language – was strange to them. And yet, the place where the unit used to dine and perhaps also spent some nights still remembered them.
Undeniably the golden fort that has prompted people to call Jaisalmer the Golden City dominates it. It has such a wide sweep that it is difficult to capture it in its entirety in one photo frame. Not only that, the more than 800-year old fort is perhaps the only one that is lived-in and once used to host an entire city within its fabulous golden walls. Only with progressive inflow of people that settlements came up outside the walls. Remarkably, it has some intricately decorated Jain temples in its confines
Built by the Rajput ruler Jaisal around 900 years ago the fort was the city known by its name. It is about 1500 ft. long and 8oo ft. wide and inside are residences as well as temples. That pest Alauddin Khilji laid a siege of the fort that continued for 8 o 9 years in the 13th Century that disrupted life in the fort pushing women to commit Jauhar and men to die at the hands of the Muslim invaders. Later there were repeated attacks, including by Humayun, on the Fort. Apparently it was a coveted fort, presumably for the riches it had hidden inside.
Jaisalmer is also known for its havelis with typically Rajasthani architecture. Havelis are what hordes of tourists come to see. They are highly decorative indicative of the artistic flair of the artisans who had developed their skills over hundreds of years. The way they would cut and fashion the stones are awe-inspiring. What is more, the architects who designed the buildings and supervised the construction seem ro have had amazing capability of visualization when they planned massive havelis with countless rooms and intricately worked-on doors and window with projected balconies.
The most famous of the lot is Patwon ki Haveli, a massive structure with dozens of windows that are intricately carved and decorated. The projected balconies and windows called “jharokhas” are essential ingredients of Rajasthani architecture. Perhaps the easy and profuse availability of soft sandstone in Rajasthan have promoted and fostered flowering of artistic work on them.
The town has a number of museums to keep the historically-inclined busy but what we thought was to enjoy out in the open the sand of the desert. We had several camel rides – which is much different from a horse ride. Probably a camel ride tells more on one’s spine. More fascinating, however, were the turbans of the camel keepers who kept us company during the rides. We happened to see some glorious sunsets over the desert